Joan of Arc just released its fourth album, The Gap (Jade Tree), but the band hasn’t outgrown its pretensions yet: front man and guitarist Tim Kinsella has made it known that his last name is now, for some reason, “Kinsellas”–his brother Mike, who drums on the record, is still a Kinsella–and one brief instrumental actually bears the title “John Cassavetes, Assata Shakur, and Guy Debord Walk Into a Bar…” The music isn’t exactly forging ahead into unexplored territory, either: Gastr del Sol is still an obvious reference point for Joan of Arc’s mix of elliptical poetry and scrambled soundscapes. That said, The Gap is a wonderful record. Casey Rice, who engineered Joan of Arc’s previous album, Live in Chicago, 1999, also worked obsessively on this one, giving Kinsellas’s fragile melodies and brittle voice a mysterious depth. The singsong vocalizing that opens “As Black Pants Make Cat Hairs Appear” is almost shapeless on its own, but against a swarm of background sounds–shattering bottles, disjointed drum patterns, skittering acoustic guitar, rumbling bass–it becomes an expression of icy, bottomless fear. When a groove finally kicks in, it feels like a door swinging open at the top of a dark flight of cellar stairs, and the song ends with several minutes of a simple, pretty refrain in three-part vocal harmony, floating over a fascinating, discombobulated shuffle of instrumental layers. Rice’s computer editing may be the best performance on the disc: pieced together into ever-shifting patterns, the other instruments–Jeremy Boyle’s gurgling, squiggling electronics, Todd Mattei’s fractal electric guitar, Kinsellas’s aimless acoustic fingerpicking–achieve a chaotic, uncomfortable sort of beauty. The album is also punctuated with moments of more straightforward loveliness, like the computer-aided vocal part that interrupts “Knife Fights Every Night” and the stately string riff that appears out of nowhere in “Me and America (or) The United Colors of the Gap.” But the most consistently rewarding thing about The Gap might be its careful detailing and gorgeous sense of space: though some songs employ up to 100 overlapping tracks, nothing ever sounds cluttered. Kinsellas says he views a recording as entirely different from a live performance, and indeed it would be difficult–and probably pointless–to replicate this material onstage. The album demands patient, relaxed attention, and all but requires repeated listening; it should be interesting to see how the band adapts its intricate collages to a noisy club. Friday, October 27, 9 PM, Fireside Bowl, 2646 W. Fullerton; 773-486-2700. Sunday, October 29, 8 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 773-525-2508.


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Tim Owen.